Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Here’s a thing that’s happening this week in the solar system: a European space probe named Rosetta, launched a decade ago, is about to land on a comet.
If the maneuver is successful (and we should know by Wednesday morning) it will take samples and perform chemical analyses of what it finds there.
I have only the most cursory understanding of the scientific significance of such a mission, but (for example) one story I’ve heard many times: that (just perhaps) the basic organic molecular building blocks of life itself may have originated first in comets. Or not, who knows?
Here’s a link (for now at least) to a live feed of the event:
The story continues to unfold.
The lander part of the probe, named Philae, touched down successfully and securely on the comet, which I have to think was a nice moment for those who designed, built, launched and guided it. Unfortunately, Philae came down in the shade, and isn’t getting enough sun (from hundreds of millions of miles away, after all) to recharge its batteries. Apparently it got as far as detecting organic molecules, and then shut down. There’s hope (I hope) that as the comet gets closer to the sun, the lander might just wake up again. That would be great.
Space, the final frontier. There is some dismay about our lack of progress in space, given that except for Apollo (in the astonishing sixties), humans have never made it out of Low Earth Orbit. The money, it seems, just isn’t there, and NASA has fallen on lean times compared to its heyday. As we’ve always known, people add a great deal to the cost of spaceflight. However, we seem to be doing pretty well with robots these days, and of course the robots are getting smarter all the time. The important thing is to keep going.
There’s a Rosetta mission blog out of the European Space Agency, so maybe that’s a place to keep track of what comes next.